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Cannabis and teens
How to talk to your kids about marijuana
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By Sukhy Mann
May/June 2019

Eight months after the legalization of cannabis in this country, some parents are still struggling to find their footing when it comes to discussing the drug with their teenage kids.

That's not to say the conversation around cannabis hasn't always been a challenging one. After all, even when cannabis was illegal, it was still readily available.  

In fact, the numbers show that one in five Canadian teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 used cannabis in the past year. And we know the rate of use among youth between the ages of 15 and 24 is twice as high as those 25 years of age and older.

But it is also fair to say that legalization - people over the age of 19 can now walk into an upscale store to buy small quantities of the drug - has added a new dimension to the discussion.  

Teenagers say they start using cannabis for various reasons, including peer pressure, to deal with stress, to help get to sleep, and to stimulate their appetite.

They also have a lot of misconceptions about cannabis. Many think it's a benign drug, that they can't become addicted, that it's safe to use along with alcohol, and that it's safe to use and drive.

But scientific evidence tells us that none of these things are true. It also tells us that regular cannabis use among those between the ages of 15 and 24 is associated with an increased risk of long-term psychotic symptoms, plus increased anxiety and depression over time. Teens and young adults are particularly at risk for the negative effects cannabis use has on their developing brains during adolescence, especially in the areas of impulse control, regulating their emotions and problem solving.

So how do you talk to your teenager about the potential dangers associated with cannabis?

The Cannabis Talk Kit, produced by non-profit Drug Free Kids Canada, is a good place to start.

It has all kinds of information, including a detailed guide on how to talk to your kids and live video talks with teenage volunteers that allow you to "practise" how to have a conversation with your own kid about cannabis.

Among other things, the guide suggests you should keep an open mind when talking to your kids. Don't judge or condemn them if they are thinking of, or are already using cannabis. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask about why they feel they need to use cannabis, and express concern and support.

Resist the urge to lecture, as nothing shuts teens down faster. This means you should avoid telling them that using cannabis is stupid or bad, or that you disapprove of their behaviour. Instead, focus on them. Talk to them about how cannabis is harmful for their health and brain, and how you are worried and concerned about them.

Your teen might need to warm up to the idea of having a conversation about drug use. Ask them if their friends at school talk about cannabis. If they still don’t want to talk, tell them you'll be there when they have things on their mind.

The guide also provides tips on how to respond in difficult situations.

For example, if your teenager tells you that they are only using cannabis once in a while and that it is not a big deal, perhaps you could respond by pointing out that using the drug even a little could pose a problem because their brain is still developing. This will get them to think about the future, and how they can set boundaries around drug use.

Sometimes, their questions may rattle you. For example, a teen might challenge you on your own behaviour, including drinking alcohol or using cannabis. They might see you come home from work, and pour a drink or smoke a joint in order to relax.

One way to respond is to reflect on your own habits. It's important to think about the effect your behaviour may be having on your kid. Remember, you are one of the most powerful influences in your child's life.

For more helpful information, visit www.drugfreekidscanada.org, download the guide and watch the videos.

Sukhy Mann is a consultant with the Manitoba Parent Line, a telephone health information service with the Provincial Health Contact Centre at the Misericordia Health Centre. If you are looking for helpful parenting information, call 204-945-4777 or toll-free 1-877-945-4777.